Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Each episode features an artist discussing a song of theirs, breaking down the sounds and ideas that went into the writing and recording. Hosted and produced by Hrishikesh Hirway.
Hans Zimmer - Dune
The movie Dune was released on October 21. It's the most recent adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novel from 1965. The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, and the score was written by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer has scored over 200 films, been nominated for Oscars eleven times. He and Denis Villeneuve first worked together on the film Blade Runner 2049. Dune tells the story of the Atreides family as they relocate from their home world to the desert planet Arrakis. When Hans Zimmer first started working on the music, he made what he calls a "sketchbook" – creating motifs and themes that might occur in the film. And in this episode, he takes us through the first sketch he did for Dune. It’s called "Paul's Dream."
For more, visit songexploder.net/dune.
The War On Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore (feat. Lucius)
The War on Drugs is a band from Philadelphia who formed in 2005. They won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018. This year, they put out their fifth album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Adam Granduciel is the singer and lead guitarist in the band, and I talked to him at his recording space here in Los Angeles. In this episode, Adam breaks down the title track from I Don’t Live Here Anymore, from the original demo to the version that was hammered out after months of work. And he explains how the song was influenced by Bob Dylan and his own newborn son.
To learn more, visit songexploder.net/the-war-on-drugs.
Willow - Transparent Soul feat. Travis Barker
Willow Smith is a singer and songwriter from Los Angeles. She’s also a member of one of the most famous families in the world. From a very young age, she followed in the musical footsteps of her parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, and released her first single when she was just ten years old. Since then, she’s released four albums, and was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most influential people in the world. This year, on her most recent album, she put out this song, "Transparent Soul," which was co-written with her longtime collaborator Tyler Cole, and features Travis Barker from Blink-182 on drums. I talked to her about how her upbringing and her musical evolution from her early pop star days influenced the way she made this song.
For more, visit songexploder.net/willow
Hrishikesh Hirway TED Talk - What You Learn When You Listen Closely
This summer, I gave a TED Talk at the TED Conference. My talk was about what you discover when you really listen. It was based on how making Song Exploder has changed the way I think about conversations and connecting with people. My talk came out today on the TED website and on the TED Talks Daily podcast, and the very nice folks at TED asked if I would also put the audio of the talk here, on Song Exploder. And I normally wouldn’t put this much of myself on here, but they asked, and like I said, they were very nice. I hope this isn’t too meta, to talk about the show, and what I get out of making it. But it also features some music, including beautiful cello played by Yo-Yo Ma, so there’s that to look forward to. Here it is, my TED Talk on what you learn when you listen closely.
To listen to my song with Yo-Yo Ma, visit https://ffm.to/betweenthereandhere.
For more, visit songexploder.net/ted.
John Lennon - God
Earlier this year, I got an amazing email—the estate of John Lennon said that they have a treasure trove of audio material from his life, and they were wondering if I would be interested in making an episode around the song “God,” from John Lennon’s first solo album. I’ve never tried making a posthumous episode before, because hearing directly from the artist is at the heart of Song Exploder. But with all the interview archives that they have of him speaking, plus all the isolated tracks from the recordings, and the original demo, it actually seemed possible. So this is a very different and special episode of the show.
In September 1969, John Lennon told the rest of the Beatles that he was leaving the group. Their breakup was announced publicly in April 1970, and that December, John Lennon released his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The Plastic Ono band was the name for a rotating group of musicians that John and his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, had put together. For the making of “God,” the band included Ringo Starr on drums, Billy Preston on piano, and Klaus Voormann on bass. I got to interview Klaus Voormann about his experiences making this track, and in this episode, you’ll hear from him along with the archival interviews with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston. You’ll also hear the original demo for “God,” and outtakes from the recording sessions at Abbey Road studios. They recorded the final version of this song on October 9, 1970—John Lennon’s 30th birthday.
Archival audio sources:
- John Lennon's audio was excerpted from an interview with Rolling Stone's Jann S. Wenner, recorded on December 8, 1970. The full interview can be found here. With grateful thanks to Jann S. Wenner for his permission and collaboration.
- Arthur Janov and Billy Preston's quotes came from interviews conducted in 2005 owned by Yoko Ono Lennon. With grateful thanks to Yoko Ono Lennon for her permission and collaboration.
- Ringo Starr's audio came from the 2008 Classic Albums documentary on John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, directed by Matthew Longfellow. With grateful thanks to Ringo Starr for his permission and collaboration.
For more, visit songexploder.net/john-lennon.
Lucy Dacus - Thumbs
Lucy Dacus is a singer and songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. She put out her first album in 2016, and in 2018 she formed the band boygenius with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. In June 2021, she released her third album, Home Video, which includes the song "Thumbs." The first time I heard it, I knew I wanted to ask Lucy about how and why she made it. After some COVID testing, we spoke in person here in Los Angeles. And she told me the story of how "Thumbs" took months and months to get right.
For more, visit songexploder.net/lucy-dacus.
Black Pumas episode has been my favourite so far, I immediately went straight to the album afterwards and really enjoyed. Such a great way to be introduced to music you may have never heard of before
Once great, now exploding boring songs.
This show has had some awesome moments, but these days it’s like an extended Pitchfork advert. The dubious taste makers pushing banal indie pop songs have invaded the producers minds. Check the back catalogue, but don’t hold out hope to find anything interesting then up in your feed.
Fascinating, absorbing, tuneful.